Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Things Are Going To Be Tough

Judy Rebick wonders what has happened to democracy in Ontario:

Last June we had an election where a Conservative government won a decisive majority of seats with 41 per cent of the popular vote and only 43.5 per cent of people even bothering to vote. The Premier has been doing everything he can to destroy everything most of us value. One of the few high points of the last couple of years has been the CUPE education workers militant response to the government’s attempt to wipe out union rights to bargain collectively and to strike. The response from the rest of the labour movement was powerful and forced the government to repeal Bill 28, a first that I can remember. Nevertheless, our democratic rights and the environment are still under attack.

At the moment, the battle is all about privatizing health-care:

The Premier has introduced a bill that basically offers to the highest bidder a significant portion of our health care system. But you can still use your OHIP card. Right. And I’ve got a bridge I can sell you. When Mike Harris tried something similar the labour movement and social movements joined together for a massive one-day general strike. It didn’t change anything because Mike Harris was a sociopath who never backed down but now we have Doug Fraud, who will back down the minute he thinks he’s in trouble.

We have a government at Queen’s Park that is prepared to destroy every progressive measure we have fought for over the last 50 years. I am glad to see people are mobilizing to oppose them but we need to build a broad progressive intersectional movement that unites all those under attack. Hopefully, this is a start.

As long as Doug is in the driver's seat, things are going to be tough.

Image: Fox News

Monday, February 27, 2023

So Much For So Little

It's now clear that the three big names at Fox News are liars. But, of the three, Tucker Carlson's story is actually kind of sad. Michael  Harris writes:

Back in his CNN days, he was a rare bird in journalism: a super-intelligent and articulate conservative, a kind of lineal descendant of William F. Buckley. In those days, he shared the stage with Bill Press, who represented the progressive point of view on a show called Crossfire. They were both so good at presenting their views that on any given day, a reasonable viewer could agree with either of them. So why did Carlson become the Benedict Arnold of journalism?

Harris believes it's an old tale about vanity:

Like Narcissus gazing into the pond and falling in love with his own image, Carlson looked into the vanity mirror of television and saw a titan who held public opinion in the palm of his hand, or at least he did weeknights from 8-9 p.m. At Fox, he became something he had never been before during earlier stints at the Weekly Standard, CNN, or MSNBC: a big star. Like a lot of right-wing media narcissists, his personal status eclipsed his obligations to his audience. Carlson’s own words, as revealed in court filings for Dominion’s defamation case, leave little doubt.

The vanity is all over Carlson's emails:

Here is what he said about the people at Fox News who correctly called Arizona for Biden in the 2020 election before any other network:  

“We worked really hard to build what we have. … Those fuckers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.”

Here is what Carlson texted to Ingraham when he found out that Trump belatedly disavowed Powell, and her Twilight Zone conspiracy lunacies about rigged election machines.  

“Powell’s a nut, as you said at the outset. Totally wrecked my weekend. Wow, I had to try and make the WH disavow her, which they obviously should have done long before.”

Here’s what Carlson said when a Fox News reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, used her personal Twitter account to fact-check one of Trump’s tweets.

“Please get her fired. Seriously. What the fuck? Actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Harris paraphrases Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons:

“It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world—but for ratings Tucker?”

Carlson isn't the first man to sacrifice so much for so little.

Image: Vox

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Putin And The Culture War

At his rally last week, Vladimir Putin entered the culture war. E.J. Dionne writes:

Vladimir Putin is sounding like someone who wants to enter the 2024 Republican presidential primaries.

“Look at what they’ve done to their own people,” he said of us Westerners. “They’re destroying family, national identity, they are abusing their children. Even pedophilia is announced as a normal thing in the West.” Never mind that Russia is a world leader in sex trafficking.

Putin didn’t stop there. In one rather convoluted passage, he came out against same-sex marriage, backed off a bit, and then doubled down:

“And they’re recognizing same-sex marriages,” he said. “That’s fine that they’re adults. They’ve got the right to live their life. And we always, we’re very tolerant about this in Russia. Nobody is trying to enter private lives of people, and we’re not going to do this.”

Well, not quite, but he pressed on: “However, we need to tell them, but look at the scriptures of any religion in the world. Everything is said in there. And one of the things is that family is a union of a man and a woman.”

Among his enemies, Putin charged, “even the sacred texts are subjected to doubt.” Also, watch out, Britain: The “Anglican Church is planning to consider the idea of a gender-neutral God,” Putin mourned. “What can you say here? Millions of people in the West understand that they are being led to spiritual destruction.”

It’s obvious that his embrace of social and religious traditionalism is aimed at winning over right-wing opinion in the democracies and splitting the traditional right.

Putin's popularity on the Right is rising:

You don’t have to watch Fox News commentators waxing warm about the Russian president to see that this strategy is working. Opposition to helping Ukraine is growing among rank-and-file Republicans.

A Pew Research survey in January found that 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that the United States was providing too much help to Ukraine, up from 32 percent in the fall and 9 percent last March. A Jan. 27-Feb. 1 Washington Post/ABC News poll found 50 percent of Republicans saying that the United States was doing too much to support Ukraine, up from 18 percent in April.

Putin is very shrewd about opinion on the right end of politics — in the United States and in Western Europe, too. He is counting on a backlash against social liberalism and the idea of a “gender-neutral” God to rustle up support for ungodly aggression.

I repeat: Caveat emptor.

Image: PBS

Saturday, February 25, 2023

It's Getting Ugly

Pierre Poilievre thought he had marked out a path to victory. Max Fawcett writes:

From the moment he announced his bid for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada last February, Pierre Poilievre’s path to power has been clear. He would run on a platform of uncompromising conservatism, sew up his party’s far-right flank, and prevent the sort of leakage of votes to the People’s Party that cost Erin O’Toole the 2021 election.

That was before Christine Anderson showed up at the behest of three members of his caucus:

Anderson, for those who don’t know her, is a member of Alternative für Deutschland, a populist German political party that opposes immigration, talks about the “Islamization” of Europe, and occasionally downplays or diminishes the country’s Nazi past. She made waves last year when she gave a speech trashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to the European Parliament that went viral in Canadian right-wing circles.

That made her a minor celebrity and could explain why she was greeted so warmly by a trio of Conservative MPs (including former leadership candidate and shadow minister of infrastructure Leslyn Lewis). The three MPs who happily posed for a photo with her, Poilievre suggested, were “unaware” of her “vile” views.

Still, their actions forced Poilievre to denounce Anderson’s visit on Friday. “Frankly, it would be better if Anderson never visited Canada in the first place. She and her racist, hateful views are not welcome here,” he said in a written statement.

But Poilievre's reaction doesn't quite wash:

First, as to the notion that his caucus mates were blithely unaware of their guest’s views, there are only two possible options here: they’re lazy, or they’re lying. Neither is a particularly good look, especially when we’re talking about someone who’s hardly an unknown entity to Canadian conservatives.

Her “What What Would Christine Anderson Do” tour is sponsored by “Canadians for Truth,” the same organization that promotes events by anti-vaccine activists like Jamie Sale and Theo Fleury. Upon her arrival, she was embraced by the same people who starred in last year’s Freedom Convoy, from protest leader Tamara Lich to lawyers Keith Wilson and Eva Chipiuk. Anderson even met with, and struck a pose beside, members of the neo-Nazi group Diagolon.

Poilievre made common cause with the truckers. Now he's trying to put some distance between himself and them:

This version of himself was one he clearly wanted to leave in the past. And now, thanks to Anderson’s visit to Canada and the backlash generated by his MPs and their decision to meet with her, he’s being dragged back there. If he refuses to kick those three MPs out of his caucus, he’ll look like he’s soft on the sort of hate that Anderson is peddling — and help write the Liberal Party’s attack ads in the next election for them. But if he does give them the boot, he risks handing Maxime Bernier a ready-made parliamentary caucus, along with an argument for why the former PPC supporters who may have reluctantly decided to embrace Poilievre should return to the fold.

Poilievre calls himself a conservative. But he and his party are not conservatives. Anderson's visit does nothing to clarify who they are. But it suggests they're getting uglier by the day.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, February 24, 2023

One Year Ago

Some people admire Vladimir Putin for what they believe is his manliness. Such was the case a year ago. Paul Krugman writes:

Putin was their idea of what a powerful man should look like, and Russia, with its muscleman military vision, their idea of a powerful country.

It should have been obvious from the beginning that this worldview was all wrong. National power in the modern world rests mainly on economic strength and technological capacity, not military prowess.

In the 21st century, manliness doesn't win wars:

Modern wars aren’t won by strutting guys flexing their biceps. They’re won mainly through logistics, technology and intelligence (in both the military and the ordinary senses) — things, it turns out, that Russia does badly and Ukraine does surprisingly well. (It’s not just Western weapons, although these have been awesomely effective; the Ukrainians have also shown a real talent for MacGyvering solutions to their military needs.)

But character does make a difference:

Just to be clear, wars are still hell and can’t be won, even with superior weapons, without immense courage and endurance. But these are also qualities Ukrainians — men and women — turn out to have in remarkable abundance.

The problem is that the Right confuses manliness with courage:

The key to understanding right-wingers’ growing Ukraine rage is that Russia’s failures don’t just show that a leader they idolized has feet of clay. They also show that their whole tough-guy view about the nature of power is wrong. And they’re having a hard time coping.

Putin is “winning the war in Ukraine,” declared Tucker Carlson on Aug. 29, just days before several Ukrainian victories. There’s still a lot of hype about a huge Russian offensive this winter; the truth, however, is that this offensive is already underway, but as one Ukrainian official put it, it has achieved so little “that not everyone even sees it.”

This doesn't mean that Ukraine is out of the woods. It takes real courage to be in for the long haul. One year ago, some were claiming that Putin would walk into Kyiv in three days. So far, he hasn't succeeded.

Image: Agence France Press

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Poilievre And The Media

Pierre Poilievre's war on the media tells us who and what he is. Robin Sears writes:

A universal tool of demagogues is to demonize and threaten journalists. It’s an effective tactic, especially when aligned with a parallel campaign to create their own controlled media.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been revealed by Florida media and Harvard’s Nieman Lab as the latest threat to an independent media, seeking legislation to intimidate independent journalists by setting minimal requirements to suing them for libel.

At the same time, he encourages his base to support a growing network of hyperpartisan media he helped nourish. He has yet to reach the next plateau of anti-journalism: singling out individual reporters for attack, attempting to ban them from news conferences and encouraging his fans to attack them on social media.

Poilievre has taken a page from the DeSantis playbook:

Pierre Poilievre took a step toward that unacceptable behaviour last week, attacking a CBC reporter publicly and refusing to answer questions put to him because they worked for Canada’s public broadcaster. Like Trump and DeSantis, Poilievre uses his media-bashing to scoop hundreds of thousands dollars through hateful social media appeals using the CBC as his whipping boy.

This is a very dark hole that Poilievre is taking his party down. Threats and even attacks on journalists are on the rise in many countries. Mexico set up special protection for some famous journalists as a result of its epidemic of murdered reporters. Nine of those journalists, under the protection of the state, were murdered last year.

Independent media is a favourite target for conservatives around the world. It consoles them in defeat that it was not their message that failed to appeal, but the “corrupt media” aligned against them. U.S. President Richard Nixon indulged in it 50 years ago. It has become a necessary proof that you are a real conservative. Conservatives’ increasingly hostile behaviour today moves from being merely pitiable, to the edge of threatening democracy.

Poilievre’s boast that, if elected, one of his first acts will be to abolish the CBC, but not Radio/Canada — a hypocritical appeal to Quebec voters — should ring loud alarms. Tory spinners claim they don’t intend to get rid of the CBC, merely to privatize it. This is a nonsense.

The meaning of this planned destruction of our public broadcaster offers a more troubling insight into Poilievre’s soul. Most of his base-inciting gambits — he’s going to run the Bank of Canada — are nonsense and he knows it. On the media, however, one increasingly gets the sense that it is unsavoury demagogues that are his guides to a media-choking strategy. Their strategies usually also include secrecy in governing and deliberately divisive policy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s excessively partisan rhetoric and lack of transparency might look timid by comparison.

A recent poll suggests that Poilievre is leading Trudeau by seven points.

Caveat emptor.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Biggest Problem With The Occupation

The were lots of problems behind the occupation of Ottawa a year ago. But the biggest problem, Les Whittington writes, was Doug Ford:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was missing in action when the convoy thugs took over the nation’s capital and prompted a national political crisis, Justice Paul Rouleau has made clear in his Feb. 17 report on the incident.

Rouleau doesn’t mince words when it comes to Ford’s hands-off approach to the blockade of streets and the lawlessness around Parliament Hill in February 2022. He puts the whole mess down to a failure of the local police and the refusal of Ford’s government to accept responsibility for controlling the situation.

He reminds everyone that, under Canada’s federal system, restoring order in an Ontario city in the midst of near-riotous conditions is the remit of the Ontario government. In a section entitled “Ontario’s absence,” he says many witnesses at the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act “saw the province as trying to avoid responsibility for responding to a crisis within its borders.”

It was Ontario's deputy solicitor general who stated the situation plainly:

As proof of Ford’s indifferent attitude toward the Ottawa blockade, Rouleau’s final report quotes Ontario deputy solicitor general Mario Di Tommaso’s testimony that “when the concern was such that the protest was spreading to other parts of the province … that’s when the premier decided to act.”

The report also notes that the Ford government refused to engage at the political level in federal-provincial-municipal talks intended to co-ordinate an integrated response to the situation in Ottawa.

“Premier Ford told [Ottawa] Mayor Watson that he did not believe these meetings would be productive. Solicitor General [Sylvia] Jones was of the view that responding to the protests was a law enforcement issue” to be dealt with between the Ottawa police and OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Rouleau points out.

Further, the report says that in a discussion with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 9 of last year, Ford expressed frustration about the way Ottawa officials were dealing with the protests there. But “Premier Ford indicated, however, that the bigger issue was the Ambassador Bridge” blockade in Windsor.

The gist of the commission’s findings is that, had the Ford government lived up to its responsibilities after the Ottawa police bungled the job, the federal government would not have been forced to use the Emergencies Act to regain control of the trucker-occupied capital.

That's our Doug.

Image: Andrew Meade

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Money Alone Won't Do It

You might hope that the federal infusion of money into our health care system would solve its problems. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Throwing more money at the system is a proven way to prop up politicians and cheer up health-care workers. But it shouldn’t leave patients quite so reassured.

The biggest challenge facing health care is not necessarily better funding, but smarter spending. Lost in this month’s big news about more federal money is the older question of how to stretch those dollars further in the future.

How do we reduce waste and improve waits? How to defend our medicare values but also value for money? How can we streamline archaic hospital procedures and deliver patient-centred care?

Consider that Canada allocated a bigger chunk of its economy to health care — 12.9 per cent of GDP — than other Western industrialized countries in 2020. Our counterparts deliver universal health care with better outcomes and lower spending — notably New Zealand (9.7 per cent), Australia (10.6 per cent) and other comparable countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, the U.K. and France.

Rather than compare ourselves to our American neighbours, who spend far more (18.8 per cent) to get far less, we should be asking ourselves why we Canadians keep paying lip service to medicare — and insisting we pay even more money — without demanding greater accountability.

The solutions we need will not be easy to come by:

If only we spent more time thinking about spending rather than just funding, we’d have a healthier health-care system. Instead, we go down rabbit holes debating shared-funding formulas, or private versus public delivery vehicles.

The recent controversy over private surgical clinics is a case in point. Critics warn that Ford’s Tories are unravelling medicare by expanding private cataract replacement clinics at the margins (and in the future, hip and knee surgeries) to reduce growing wait-lists.

A rarefied ideological debate has sucked up all the oxygen in the province, leaving precious little clear thinking. Our publicly-accessible medicare system was always based on privately-delivered care — starting with the doctors and surgeons who are independent contractors, responsible for their own overhead at their privately-owned facilities.

Interestingly, the accusations have largely overshadowed some of the straightforward solutions that might have reduced wait-lists sooner — and obviated the need for private clinics to provide relief. For example, Dr. David Urbach, head of surgery at Women’s College Hospital, wrote in a recent Toronto Star op-ed article that wait-lists are out of control because most surgeons maintain sole control of their own workloads.

Which means you could wait many months if your own surgeon is backlogged, while someone with a different doctor could be operated on within weeks. If Ontario introduced a centralized wait-list for surgeries, we could make the most of what we have instead of clamouring for yet more resources.

Put simply, we have to reorganize health care. And we have a lot of work to do.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, February 20, 2023

Indict The Man

Patience with the American legal system is wearing thin. So far, Michael Harris writes, Donald Trump has held himself above the law:

One of his tactics has simply been to lie his brains out. When he was president, he told thousands of lies to his fellow Americans, displaying utter contempt for their intelligence and the facts. 

He told them they could protect themselves from COVID by injecting disinfectants, or getting some sun.  

In the year that 386,000 Americans died from COVID, he told them that the coronavirus was “totally under control,” and “disappearing.” 

He told them windmill noise caused cancer.  

Trump told them he didn’t know where the $130,000 to silence porn star Stormy Daniels about their fling came from, although he himself personally reimbursed his then-lawyer Michael Cohen for the payment.

But Trump saved his biggest and most destructive lie until he was voted out of office; that the 2020 election was rigged, that he didn’t lose, and that Biden’s presidency was illegitimate. People died at the Capitol Building after Trump’s claim that the election had been stolen ignited a riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

 More sinisterly, however, he's broken the law in public:

The world has heard his monstrous request in that taped phone call with Brad Raffensperger. A special grand jury in Georgia has advised the attorney general to pursue charges against various Trump cronies who may have lied during their testimony. The grand jury also unanimously found that there was no corruption in the Georgia election, as Trump claimed. 

Special prosecutor Jack Smith has taken a deep-dive into Trump’s frightening attempt to hold on to power after Americans had voted him out. It turns out that Trump had decided long before election night that if he lost, he’d claim that the election was stolen. There was talk of seizing voting machines and declaring a state of martial law: the brainchild of Team Crazy.

That plan was replaced by another virtual coup attempt—creating a block of fake electors to challenge the actual election results before they could be confirmed. Trump put pressure on his vice-president, Mike Pence, to refuse to confirm the will of the people on Jan. 6. He falsely told Pence that as VP,  he had the constitutional power to do so. Pence refused, and on the morning of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump called him out as a “pussy.” A Trump tweet accusing Pence of lacking courage inspired a novel chant at the insurrection: “Hang Pence.”

Smith also appears to have Trump dead to rights on his handling of classified documents which were found in his possession at his Florida home. Trump willfully retained the documents after the National Archives demanded their return, failed to respond to a subpoena, and may have obstructed justice in the process.  

Whether it is Georgia’s attorney general, the district attorney for the southern district of Manhattan, or special prosecutor Smith at the Department of Justice, someone has to hold to account the man who wants to take a chainsaw to the U.S. Constitution. 

It's time to indict the man.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Lies Are Collossally Profitable

Dominion Voting Systems -- whose roots are in Toronto -- is suing Fox News. The discovery process has revealed the deep rot at Fox. Erik Wemple writes:

News organizations rarely look good when their internal emails and text messages surface in the public square. A filing Thursday from Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation lawsuit against Fox News is not only no exception, it’s a watershed of journalistic misdeeds.

The network’s prime-time stars — Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, along with other top names — care about ratings first, second and third, a consideration that eclipses the truth and other principles of journalism. “Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson wrote on Nov. 16, 2020, to a producer about President Donald Trump’s lawyer, who played a leading role in pushing far-out theories about election theft. The Dominion filing makes clear that the stars and Fox executives knew there was no evidence behind the election-denial lies repeated on the network’s broadcasts — a bombshell that is likely to take Fox years to live down.

At Fox, ratings -- not the truth -- drove the organization:

Panic over audience desertion got going early at Fox News, correspondence cited in Thursday’s filing shows. On election night, Fox News was the first news outlet to call Arizona for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a decision that infuriated the Trump campaign. Disenchantment trickled down to the Trump faithful. “We worked really hard to build what we have,” Carlson wrote to a producer, according to the Dominion filing. “Those f---ers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.”

On Nov. 7, Fox News called the race for Biden. That night, top communications official Irena Briganti wrote, “Our viewers left this week after AZ.” And Carlson wrote, “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real....an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.”

Fearing an all-out ratings crisis, Fox News executives “made an explicit decision to push narratives to entice their audience back,” the Dominion filing says. Journalism wasn’t one of those narratives. On Nov. 9, Neil Cavuto, an afternoon host known for his affability and independence, cut away from unsupported remarks by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue to show you this,” Cavuto said on air. That moment triggered a notification from an executive at parent company Fox Corp. about the “Brand Threat” from Cavuto’s actions. An email from Fox News Media chief executive Suzanne Scott to other executives following the incident is redacted from the filing.

Lies are colossally profitable. The slogan at Fox is "Fair and Balanced."


Image: Sirius XM

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Poilievre And Rouleau

Justice Paul Rouleau delivered his report yesterday. Susan Delacourt writes:

“Freedom” became a highly charged political word in Canada one year ago, shouted from trucks blockading border points, bouncing off the walls of buildings in an occupied capital city.

In his official commission report on that so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest last February, Justice Paul Rouleau has done something politically significant — he has said what freedom looks like, and the convoy was not it.

“Freedom cannot exist without order,” Rouleau writes in the executive summary of his report, which endorsed — if “reluctantly” — the declaration of emergency by Justin Trudeau’s government that brought some order back to a convoy-besieged country.

The finding justifies what was done to clean up the mess, but not what caused the mess itself — the toxic partisanship, a failure of policing and federalism and yes, a warped idea of freedom, caused by the pandemic, populism and rampant misinformation being sprayed over social media.

Rouleau spent a lot of time delineating what went wrong:

And much of it is still wrong. Rouleau, for instance, suggests that more work needs to be done in the realm of misinformation and the power it has to disrupt democracy.

Trudeau appeared to understand on Friday that while he was vindicated in invoking the emergency legislation last February, it was no time to be triumphant, and the prime minister took some blame for how he had lashed out at the convoy protesters last year.

“I wish I had phrased it differently,” Trudeau said, agreeing with Rouleau that he may have fed the rage by describing the protesters as a fringe minority.

Mr. Poilievre, however, ignored Rouleau's report:

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who’s travelled a long way in one year on the strength of those convoy cries for freedom — it’s a regular part of his slogans — showed far less contrition on Friday, blaming Trudeau for all the divisiveness that caused the protest.

“This was an emergency that Justin Trudeau created,” he said. “He is the division.”

Rouleau did not pronounce on whether Poilievre was wise to encourage the protests as he did last February, along with many other Conservative MPs. The commission report steered well clear of the political fray in that respect. Poilievre was also asked at his news conference in Calgary whether he regretted associating with the protest, which Rouleau made clear went well beyond a freedom-of-expression party.

Yes, the commissioner wrote, most of the protesters were peaceful, but that doesn’t erase the fact that it was menacing, traumatizing and quite possibly destabilizing to peace, order and good government.

Rouleau also disagreed with the Conservative leader’s oft-expressed contention that Trudeau should have met with the convoy demonstrators when they rolled into town.

“I accept that meeting with an undefined group of organizers with no clear leadership, when in any event there was little likelihood of predicting, let alone controlling the protesters’ actions, was unlikely to resolve matters,” Rouleau wrote.

What was wrong a year ago remains wrong today. And Pierre Poilievre continues to spout what is wrong.

Image: Epoch Times

Friday, February 17, 2023

They Don't Need No Education

The Republicans have organized a full-throated attack on higher education. Paul Krugman writes:

Not that long ago most Americans in both parties believed that colleges had a positive effect on the United States. Since the rise of Trumpism, however, Republicans have turned very negative. Recent polling shows an overwhelming majority of Republicans agreeing that both college professors and high schools are trying to “teach liberal propaganda.”

But what actually happened here? Did America’s colleges — which a large majority of Republicans considered to have a positive influence as recently as 2015 — suddenly become centers of left-wing indoctrination? Did the same thing happen to high schools, run by local boards, across the nation?

Of course not. What happened was that MAGA politicians began peddling scare stories about education — notably, denouncing high schools for teaching critical race theory, even though they don’t. And right-wingers also greatly expanded their definition of what counts as “liberal propaganda.”

Thus, when one points out that schools don’t actually teach critical race theory, the response tends to be that while they may not use the term, they do teach students that racism was long a major force in America, and its effects linger to this day. I don’t know how you teach our nation’s history honestly without mentioning these facts — but in the eyes of a substantial number of voters, teaching uncomfortable facts is indeed a form of liberal propaganda.

And once that’s your mind-set, you see left-wing indoctrination happening everywhere, not just in history and the social sciences. If a biology class explains the theory of evolution, and why almost all scientists accept it — or, for that matter, the theory of how vaccines work — well, that’s liberal propaganda. If a physics class explains how greenhouse gas emissions can change the climate — well, that’s more liberal propaganda.

Education is one of the great dividing lines in American politics:

It’s a familiar fact that U.S. politics is increasingly polarized along educational lines, with the highly educated supporting Democrats and the less-educated supporting Republicans. This polarization is often portrayed as a symptom of Democratic failure — why can’t the party win over working-class white voters? But it’s equally valid to ask how Republicans have managed to alienate educated voters who might benefit from tax cuts. And the party’s growing hostility to education is surely part of the answer.

In any case, one sad thing is that this turn against education is taking place precisely at a time when highly educated workers are becoming ever more crucial to the economy. This is especially obvious when you look at regional data within the United States: The college-educated percentage of a city’s population is a powerful predictor of both its current prosperity and its future growth.

So why demonize education? Krugman says the answer is simple:

[They] are attacking education, not because it teaches liberal propaganda, but because it fails to sustain the ignorance they want to preserve.

Image: Twitter

Thursday, February 16, 2023

A Clear And Present Danger

It's wise these days to pay attention to what comes out of Pierre Poilievre's mouth. It's also wise to pay attention to what comes out of the mouths of some of his MPs. Althia Raj writes:

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s Quebec lieutenant made a shocking declaration this week that went unnoticed in English Canada, telling reporters that Conservatives “of course” agree with the provinces’ pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause.

On Tuesday, Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus said the party “might not necessarily” contest Quebec’s Bill 21 at the Supreme Court — reversing Poilievre’s previous stance. Then, Paul-Hus added, “Is the use of the notwithstanding clause in a pre-emptive manner, as the provinces have used it — are Conservatives in agreement with that?”

“Bien oui,” he said, meaning, “Of course” — or, literally, “Well, yes.”

This week the Conservatives -- who raised hell when a possible coalition government that included the Bloc Quebcois raised its head -- sided with the BQ:

This week, they all sided with the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois and voted to tell Ottawa — the Liberals and any future federal government — to butt out of the notwithstanding clause debate. (Only Manitoba’s Candice Bergen, Nova Scotia’s Rick Perkins and Ontario’s Alex Ruff, who represents Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, didn’t show up for the vote, and only the Liberals and NDP opposed.)

The motion proposed by the Bloc read: “That the House remind the government that it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.”

Remember the history behind the not-withstanding clause:

The notwithstanding clause was a compromise that allowed prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to enshrine the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Constitution. It gives legislatures the right to override some Charter rights for a renewable period of five years. Several politicians around the table at the time felt the political cost of using the clause would dampen the temptation to use it.

But times have changed:

In 2019, Quebec’s government introduced Bill 21 to popular support. Knowing the legislation was discriminatory, Premier François Legault pre-emptively invoked the notwithstanding clause to protect it from court scrutiny. The clause was pre-emptively used again last year by Quebec when it passed Bill 96, legislation that limits the rights of anglophones in the province and curbs the use of other minority languages.

Then, last fall, Ontario Premier Doug Ford attempted to pre-emptively invoke the clause, too — this time to stop educational support workers from striking.

And now the Conservatives have become allies of the BQ.

Mr. Poilievre and his party are a clear and present danger.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

A Relic

Robin Sears writes that John Tory is a relic of a bygone era:

Toronto’s expected-to-retire mayor is, by contemporary political standards, a relic. Mostly that’s a good thing. Promising to resign when you are not compelled to is a relic of the standards of another era. So is thinking that you can carry on affairs with those who report to you.

Even as a very young political operative, John Tory was always reflective of his background and the values it inculcated. Arguing on political panels or over lunch, Tory would always refuse to meet vitriolic partisan insults in kind. Learning that an opponent had just received a new baby or lost a cherished friend, John would always reach out.

He was never naive, though, about the hard culture and sometimes bad, even corrupt, behaviour of many in politics. Walking one day past the enormous hole in the ground that was to become the CBC headquarters, we were puzzling about the rise in municipal corruption in the Toronto suburbs. I said I found it very hard to align with our mostly corruption-free federal and provincial political cultures.

He offered a mildly sardonic smile and said, “So long as one person, in the right committee, at the right time, by raising their right hand, can turn that mud-filled hole into a multimillion dollar real estate asset — there will always be corruption in municipal politics.” It is an acute bon mot that I remember more than four decades later.

Despite his faults, Tory reflected the best qualities of earlier political leaders:

It was the Bill Davis, Lester Pearson and Tommy Douglas approach to politics. Fight hard for what you believe, never mistake your opponents for enemies, and attempt to bring grace and respect into the ring every time.

But times have changed. Tory was tripped up by his own mistakes. And whoever replaces him will not echo a bygone era.

Image: CTV News

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

They Took It

The premiers have accepted Ottawa's offer on health-care. They said it wasn't enough  -- and it isn't -- but they took the money. Michael Harris writes:

If Canada’s premiers are feeling Christmas morning disappointment with Ottawa’s financial package intended to save the public health-care system, they aren’t resorting to the usual antics when their demands aren’t met.

The chair of the premiers’ council, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, noted the significant shortfall in requested funding. Quebec Premier François Legault griped that Ottawa’s package was not a long-term solution to the problems besetting the health system.

But not a single premier came out swinging against Ottawa’s offer, not a single one turned it down — at least not yet.

The premiers had asked for $28 billion a year to be added to the Canada Health Transfer. They got $46.2 billion spread over 10 years, with just under half of that coming in the form of a boost to the Canada Health Transfer.

Another $25 billion will be doled out through bilateral deals with individual provinces and territories, with strings attached. Ottawa would like the funding to be invested in areas such as primary care and mental health.

The bilateral deals give Ottawa significant leverage in its dealing with the provinces and territories. With each side deal it is able to consummate, a unified opposition to Ottawa’s offer will be weakened. Think of it as divide and concur.

But the real hallmark of this agreement is data:

What really puts Ottawa in the driver’s seat with this offer, should the premiers accept it, is the level of oversight the federal government will exercise. Through the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the provinces and territories will be required to share data that Ottawa will use to assess whether the new funding, such as it is, actually produces better outcomes for Canadians.

If surgical wait times don’t improve, if more doctors and nurses aren’t recruited, if more Canadians don’t end up with access to family doctors, new funding could dry up — though there are no explicit penalty clauses in the federal proposal. But why else measure performance outcomes, if failing grades don’t come with consequences?

So why are the premiers not raising Cain?

It comes down to this. Health care is now an existential issue for every political party. With record numbers of Canadians without a family doctor, with a shocking number of patients dying in ERs and a COVID-weary medical profession barely on its feet in overwhelmed hospitals, health care in this country is not merely in trouble, there is a clear and present danger of a collapse.

That’s why federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the system doesn’t work anymore. That’s why no politician wants to be seen as haggling over the details of a fix, when so many Canadians are suffering, and without timely access to medical care. In Nova Scotia alone, 558 ER patients died in 2022, up 10 per cent from the previous year.

That’s why Ontario Premier Doug Ford is apparently prepared to embrace Trudeau’s insufficient financial lifeline, characterizing it as a “down payment” on better future funding from Ottawa.

Everyone seems to be on board:

That’s why Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, whose reflexive reaction to anything Trudeau does is shock and outrage, says he will not only honour the Liberal deal if he is elected prime minister, he will give even more money to the premiers. Even Poilievre understands that at a visceral level, Canadian identity rests on public health care, not hockey. Too bad he didn’t bother to tell Canadians just how much more he would be willing to spend if he ran the show.

Everyone it seems except Jagmeet Singh:

Singh, who entered into a supply and confidence deal with the Liberals that could keep Trudeau’s minority in power until 2025, has accused the prime minister of endangering Canada’s public health-care system in the most fundamental way.

“Most concerning is that, according to the premiers, Prime Minister Trudeau did not raise a single concern with provincial plans to build more for-profit, private health care. When he had the chance to stand up for Canada’s public health-care system, he stood down,” Singh said in a statement.

Even though Trudeau has repeatedly said that health care in all provinces and territories must comply with the Canada Health Act, Singh thinks Trudeau has missed the point. Rather than easing staffing problems in hospitals by having some procedures done in private clinics, the NDP believes that approach will only make matters worse. 

So, what happens next? Hard to say. But keep your eye on those side deals with the provinces.

Image: CTV

Monday, February 13, 2023

They Make A Lot Of Noise

Pierre Poilievre is playing his victim card. He claims that the head of the CBC is picking on him. Michael Harris writes:

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is now slagging the president of the CBC. What is Catherine Tait’s sin? According to Poilievre, Tait has unleashed a “partisan attack” against him. In other words, she has criticized him.

What Tait said was all the more offensive to Poilievre because it is true. The Conservative leader has, after all, shown a distinct bias against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As part of his populist iconoclasm, Poilievre has promised to get rid of the public broadcaster. All Tait did was remind readers of The Globe and Mail that Poilievre’s sloganeering is not designed to raise public consciousness, just money.

In the current dust-up, Poilievre has travelled from the contrived to the absurd. Stephen Harper’s handpicked choice for party leader ludicrously declared that Tait’s comments about him “prove” his contention that the CBC is the “mouthpiece” of Justin Trudeau.  

This kind of rhetoric is commonplace on The Right these days:

That is Marjory Taylor Greene logic. It is also a mammoth slander of the over 7,000 people who work at the corporation, including a stable of fine journalists. Does he really think all those journalists could fit in Trudeau’s pocket? Now Poilievre is once again soliciting money from the public to help him “go around” the CBC.

Everyone should pay attention to those words. The Conservative Party is fond of perpetuating the myth that the media is against them, and more than that, that it carries a brief for the Liberals. The party often describes its aversion to the media as an attempt to get its message out to Canadians without the “filter” of journalists. That is hogwash. Their real issue is not getting their message out unfiltered. It is getting their message out unquestioned.   

These days, conservative politicians don't have facts on their side. So they make a lot of noise.

Image: BrainyQuote

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Will We Have An Election?

They met and Justin offered the premiers more money. Chantal Hebert offers her take on the situation:

A boost in health-care spending was always expected to be one of the main items of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s next budget.

If the restraint that was on exhibit at the health-care table is a harbinger of that budget, it may turn out — much like the prime minister’s health plan — to be more prudent than ambitious.

If they are to be competitive against the Conservatives in the next election, the Liberals need to shore up their economic credentials. Trudeau’s conservative approach to health-care funding could translate into a decisively more fiscally conservative budget.

But that could yet put their minority government on a politically unsustainable course in Parliament.

It's beginning to look like the agreement between Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh is in trouble:

At week’s end, the most vocal critic of Trudeau’s proposal to the provinces has turned out to be his partner in the current Parliament.

By comparison to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the premiers, even as they expressed their collective disappointment at not being offered more money, sounded remarkably at peace with the situation.

But then, Singh was left with very little to show for the influence that is supposed to attend his caucus’s non-aggression pact with the minority Liberals.

He had called on Trudeau to draw a red line on the contracting out of surgeries to for-profit clinics. But according to provincial sources, the prime minister spent little or no time dwelling on the issue.

To add insult to injury, the New Democrats’ top demand of a national pharmacare program did not rate a mention in the first ministers’ list of priorities.

As for the Conservatives, they had nothing to say in the lead-up to the meeting between Trudeau and the premiers:

Should he become prime minister, Pierre Poilievre now says he would live by the terms set out by Trudeau.

The Conservatives have no interest in fighting the Liberals on the health-care battlefield in the next election campaign. Their leader’s stance essentially neutralizes an issue that has never been a winning one for his party.

But for all that, no one expects Poilievre to support the upcoming budget and the Bloc Québécois is unlikely to come to the rescue of the Liberal government.

So, it will be up to Singh. Will we have an election? Time will tell.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Things Can Change Quickly


It caught us all by surprise. The Toronto Star's Edward Keenan writes:

Well, holy mackerel. Did anyone see this coming?

But this is a shock. Mayor John “Bland Works” Tory, who has spent decades developing a reputation as the walking personification of pablum, who often spoke with apparent devotion of the wife he has been with since the disco era, who was swept into office eight years ago on the promise of ending the three-ring circus of personal drama hijacking city business that had defined the Rob Ford era ...

For Torontonians, the revelations and the resignation come together, all of a sudden, just months after they’d overwhelmingly elected Tory to a historic third term, after he’d asked for and accepted unprecedented new strong mayor powers, and just a week before the climax of a city budget process he has controlled in a way no other mayor previously has.

And it throws the city’s government and political situation into disarray.

So Jennifer McKellvie, the deputy mayor, will take over until there is a by-election. Tory's resignation reminds us that things can change very quickly.

And that the Greeks knew a lot about human frailty.

Image: CTV News Toronto

Friday, February 10, 2023

Democracy Under Siege

Michael Den Tandt writes in the Globe and Mail that democracy is in trouble:

Simply put, democracy is losing. The reason: Western governments, led by the United States, have not come to terms with the reality that liberal and free societies worldwide are under attack from within – using the very tools developed by their brightest innovators to express that freedom.

Digitization and the world wide web, those promethean sparks of the late 20th century, are the principal vehicles for populist disruption. Yet even as Europe and the U.S. ponderously turn, like a pair of moribund wildebeest facing a pack of jackals, to impose governance on the 30-year-old internet, Web3 and artificial intelligence are set to whisk deliverance away. How can regulators, already neutered by transnational data flows, cope with a digital universe in which fake video and audio are indistinguishable from real clips, while being infinitely scalable and producible on a laptop?

“On the internet,” the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen said in a prescient jeremiad to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in 2019, “everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.”

The technology that many thought would democratize the world has been weaponized against democracy:

In April, 2021, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the foreign affairs department of the European Union, issued a report called Short Assessment of Narratives and Disinformation Around the COVID-19 Pandemic. The report, produced by the EEAS unit charged with countering disinformation, found that from December, 2020, through April, 2021 – with much of the world in lockdown and vaccines just beginning to emerge – Russian and Chinese information operations were in high gear.

Even as the two autocracies undertook an international campaign to promote their own COVID-19 vaccines – Sputnik V and Sinovac, respectively – they sought to “undermine trust in Western-made vaccines, EU institutions and Western/European vaccination strategies,” the EEAS report found. “Both Russia and China are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media outlets and social media, including official diplomatic social media accounts, to achieve these goals.”

Further, it highlighted the ties between the far-right factions of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, and far-right Christian Americans. In a 2019 paper for the Alliance for Securing Democracy, Laura Rosenberger and Thomas Morley explored how Russian links to global populist movements extend into France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. “Russian military strategists see cyberwarfare not as a distinct, separate form of military operation but rather one that is integrated into other means of asymmetric warfare, such as disinformation,” they wrote.

This isn’t to say that every keyboard warrior who shares an anti-vaccine meme is a Russian agent. But it is to say that authoritarian regimes have a clear interest in seeing that meme shared – just as Vladimir Putin’s regime had a clear interest in seeing Donald Trump become leader of the free world in 2016.

The old saw -- caveat emptor -- still applies. Approach the internet carefully.

Image: AZ Quotes

Thursday, February 09, 2023

An Apt Description

Joe Biden gave quite a performance a couple of nights ago. Eugene Robinson writes:

Biden came prepared for catcalls from far-right members of the new House majority. I wondered at times whether I was watching a State of the Union address or a raucous session of Prime Minister’s Questions in the British House of Commons. Rather than being rattled or angered by GOP outbursts, Biden seemed to relish them — at times, even to provoke them. And he tossed out an ample supply of folksy Bidenisms in response.

My favorite was when he praised the provision in the Inflation Reduction Act, approved last year, that capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors on Medicare. He called on Congress to “finish the job” and extend that cap for all Americans. When someone on the Republican side of the room remonstrated, Biden paused before departing from his script to reply: “As my football coach used to say, lots of luck in your senior year.”

Then he translated into standard English: If anyone tries to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, “I will veto it.”

Biden threw down the gauntlet in front of the Republicans:

Biden took the same playful approach when he challenged Republicans to spell out their economic plans and stop threatening to send the federal government into default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And while he was touting the benefits of the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that he signed into law in 2021, he noted that some Republican members of Congress had voted against it. Nevertheless, he said, “I’ll see you at the groundbreaking.”

The president’s point was that despite all the hyperpartisan, apocalyptic rhetoric, the federal government has been functioning. Progress is messy, halting and incremental, but it does happen — inch by inch, step by step, mile by mile.

Biden used the august occasion — and used undisciplined Republicans as foils — to display his own vigor, sense of humor and aura of command. Behind him, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appeared at several moments to try to shush the most voluble Republicans, perhaps knowing the clash wasn’t going well for his party.

Last night, in a television interview, James Carville -- that good ol' boy from Louisiana (pronounced Looziana) -- said the Republican Party was the party of white trash. In the American South, the phrase "white trash" suggests three things -- racist, ignorant, and untrustworthy.

The phrase is an apt description of the modern Republican Party.

Image: New York Post

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Trudeau And Smith

Justin Trudeau and Danielle Smith shook hands yesterday. You could see the pain on Smith's face. Graham Thomson writes:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Tuesday’s video of Danielle Smith’s painfully awkward handshake with Prime Minister Trudeau is worth a novella.

Then again, given the soap-opera quality of Alberta politics these days, it’s really a telenovela.

Packed into the five-second video is years’ worth of Alberta conservative political theatre embellished with anger, cynicism, partisanship and hypocrisy.

When a smiling Trudeau offered Smith his hand, she looked so ill at ease you’d think he was offering her a dead fish. She responded in kind with a handshake so reluctant that Trudeau ended up pretty much holding her hand while the photo-op cameras clicked.

This is Alberta-Ottawa relations 2023.

For Smith and her supporters, Justin Trudeau is the boogeyman:

Smith won a United Conservative Party leadership race in which she pandered to angry Conservatives by, among other things, relentlessly demonizing the prime minister as being anti-oil, anti-pipeline and all-around anti-Alberta. As premier, she has said the Liberal government is not a true national government, and in December passed an Alberta Sovereignty Act aimed at thwarting federal laws Smith deems to be un-Albertan.

But Smith's rhetoric has put her between a rock and hard place:

The problem — call it a trap — for Smith is she has to get along with the federal government, particularly when it comes to getting money from Ottawa. This week’s long-anticipated first ministers conference on health-care funding is such a trap.

Ottawa is offering the provinces money — a whopping $196 billion over 10 years — if they agree to strings attached. Premiers say it’s less money than they hoped and need time to think it over. Smith won’t commit to accepting the money but at the same time can’t simply refuse it. And she can’t take too long to accept it, especially with a provincial election campaign on the way in May.

There’s historical precedent. In April 2021, then-Premier Jason Kenney undermined his dwindling popularity in Alberta’s major cities by attacking the federal $10-a-day child-care plan by dismissing it as a “cookie-cutter, nine-to-five, urban, government and union-run institutional daycare” plan. He dragged his heels on a bilateral deal but finally signed one in November of that year at a brittle news conference with Trudeau that almost matched this week’s Smith-Trudeau clumsy handshake for awkwardness.

Kenney had put himself in a politically vulnerable spot by courting angry anti-Trudeau supporters to win the UCP leadership in 2017 and the Alberta election in 2019. They rebelled against him during the pandemic when they accused him of cosying up to Trudeau after Kenney pleaded with the federal government for more COVID-related help. (Ottawa responded with more per-capita funding for Alberta than any other province.) Kenney’s reward from his angry rural Conservatives was getting booted out as UCP leader in 2022 and being replaced with the even angrier anti-Trudeau leader, Danielle Smith.

So Smith should both look and feel uncomfortable. Hers is not smart politics.

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

No Go Joe?

Pressure is building on Joe Biden not to run for a second term. Michelle Goldberg writes:

When President Biden gives his State of the Union address [tonight], he will have a lot to boast about.

He’s presided over record job creation and the lowest unemployment rate in over 50 years. Whereas Donald Trump’s infrastructure weeks were a running joke, Biden signed the largest infusion of federal funds into infrastructure in more than a decade. His Inflation Reduction Act made a historic investment in clean energy; the head of the International Energy Agency called it the most important climate action since the 2015 Paris climate accord. (And incidentally, inflation is finally coming down.) Biden rallied Western nations to support Ukraine against Russia’s imperialist invasion and ended America’s long, fruitless war in Afghanistan, albeit with an ugly and ignominious exit. His administration capped insulin prices for seniors, codified federal recognition of gay marriage and shot down that spy balloon everyone was freaking out about. He’s on track to appoint more federal judges than Trump.

Biden can also take a victory lap for Trump’s declining influence. Lots of pundits rolled their eyes when Biden sought to make the midterms a referendum on the MAGA movement’s threat to American democracy. Voters didn’t. Even more than Trump’s defeat in 2020, the loss of Trumpist candidates like Arizona’s Kari Lake and Georgia’s Herschel Walker in 2022 convinced many Republicans they need to move on from their onetime hero.

In other words, Biden has been a great president. He’s made good on an uncommon number of campaign promises. He should be celebrated on Tuesday. But he should not run again.

The problem -- as in Canada -- is who's on the other side:

It is worrying that in the Washington Post/ABC poll, Trump was slightly ahead in a hypothetical rematch, but Trump’s negatives tend to go up the more he’s in the public eye, and a presidential campaign would give him plenty of chances to remind Americans of his unique malignancy.

Plenty of Democrats worry that if Biden steps aside, the nomination will go to Vice President Kamala Harris, who polls poorly. But Democrats have a deep bench, including politicians who’ve won in important purple states, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Biden said he wanted to be a bridge to the next generation of Democrats. There are quite a few promising people qualified to cross it. A primary will give Democrats the chance to find the one who is suited for this moment. 

Yesterday, I wrote about Justin Trudeau's possible retirement. Today the subject is Biden. I was quite happy to retire. I suspect both men will not be. But, then, I didn't have the fate of a nation resting on my shoulders.

That's the difference.

Image: Global News

Monday, February 06, 2023

Knowing When It's Time To Go

In professional sports, in politics, and in life in general, it's wise to know when to go. Michael Harris writes that some Canadian politicians knew when to leave the stage. Many others didn't:

Tom Brady made that point five years ago when he told an interviewer that the only thing he was afraid of was the end of his playing career in the National Football League. The greatest quarterback of all time had trouble saying goodbye. How much trouble? He retired twice, once last year in a flood of emotion, and again last week without the histrionics. 

Conservative Richard Hatfield was the longest-serving premier in New Brunswick history, winning four provincial elections and holding that post from 1970 to 1987. Despite mounting controversies and scandals, including drug charges against the premier laid by the RCMP, and allegations that he had offered marijuana and cocaine to four students, Hatfield refused to resign. Instead, he decided to contest the 1987 provincial election only to see his party demolished.

The man who succeeded Hatfield, Frank McKenna, handled his exit from politics very differently. This very popular politician wiped out the Conservatives in the New Brunswick provincial election of 1987, winning every seat in the legislature. He promised he would leave that post if he was still in office after a decade. And exactly 10 years after his rout of the scandal-plagued Conservatives, McKenna retired from politics, exactly as he’d promised. 

This brings us to Justin Trudeau. Harris believes Trudeau is at the end of a pretty good run:

Justin Trudeau, like Tom Brady, has had a story-book political career. He is five-for-five in running for a seat in the House of Commons, representing the Quebec riding of Papineau. As Liberal leader, he has won three out of three federal elections, and has served seven years and 90 days as prime minister. 

But if the polls have it right, running for a fourth time to remain prime minister may be a bridge too far. Recent surveys show the Liberals trailing the Conservatives by seven points, and suggest a majority of Canadians would like Trudeau to step down and hand the ball to a new leader. Pollster Nik Nanos says that it is a troubling sign for Trudeau that 43 per cent of Canadians think the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared to 40 per cent who believe it is moving in the right direction. Over the last 16 years, only twice has the “wrong” number been numerically higher than the “right” number: the last two years of Harper’s doomed government in 2013 and 2014. 

It's not easy to retire. But it helps to know when you should retire. I wonder if Justin reads what Harris writes.

Image: The Toronto Star

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Religious Bigotry

Justin Trudeau returns to Parliament this week having backtracked on a couple of issues. Althia Raj writes:

For the Liberals, the return of Parliament this week was marked by a series of reversals after many unfortunate own goals.

On Friday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino acknowledged bungling gun control as the Liberals withdrew controversial amendments to legislation that Conservatives and the NDP had denounced as scooping up hunters and Indigenous Peoples in an effort to target assault-style weapons.

On Thursday, Justice Minister David Lametti tabled a bill asking for a yearlong delay before expanding medical assistance in dying to those solely suffering from mental illness. Last fall, Lametti was adamant a delay wasn’t needed. But public pressure mounted, and this week government officials acknowledged it was to get the process right, to prepare professionals, and to consider an upcoming report from a Commons committee.

But Trudeau's hottest potato is his appointment of Amira Elghawaby as an advisor on Islamophobia and Quebec's reception to her appointment:

Elghawaby, a former Star columnist, was appointed on Jan. 26 to serve as an adviser on the government’s efforts to fight Islamophobia, racial discrimination and religious intolerance. In Quebec, her appointment caused an uproar — she has suggested the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment, accused Quebec Premier François Legault of showing xenophobic tendencies and, in a since-deleted tweet, said the claim that French-Canadians were oppressed under British rule made her want to “throw up.” That kind of language starts a fire in modern Quebec, qhich is steadfastly committed to secularism  -- as expressed in the recently passed Bill 21.

Quebec's secularism is a hard rejection of the influence of the Catholic Church in Quebec. I grew up in that province, where priests used to instruct their parishioners on how to vote. Advice that used to be taken seriously there -- Le Ciel best bleu. L'Enfer est rouge. Heaven is blue. Hell is red. -- is now a standing joke.

One hundred and fifty years ago, religion was a major fault line in Canadian politics. It would be a grave mistake to return to those days.

Image: Must Do Canada

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Carlson On Canada

Recently, Tucker Carlson suggested that the United States should "liberate" Canada. Max Fawcett writes:

Carlson may have been joking about the idea of "liberating" Canada, but he’s probably dead serious about the notion that Canada’s current government is actively infringing on the freedoms and liberties of its citizens. It was Carlson, after all, who helped elevate last year’s trucker convoy into a global phenomenon on the far right. “Find an enemy, create a crisis, stay in power forever,” he said in his Feb. 21, 2022, monologue. “It's the oldest recipe for tyranny that there is. If we don't recognize it in our own age, it's only because nothing like this was supposed to happen in a democracy, but it is happening, most clearly in Canada.”

There’s a substantial subset of his viewers, and a smaller slice of the American population as a whole, that takes this portrayal of Canada seriously. They genuinely believe we’re being governed by communists, that we’ve fallen prey to a far-left dictatorship, and our freedoms are being suppressed in order to advance the wishes of the World Economic Forum or some other tinfoil-laden conspiracy theory. The longer people are fed that sort of toxic nonsense, the more likely it is that it winds up in the head of someone who could do something about it.

Carlson has become a spokesman for wing-nut conservatism; and, therefore, what is funny -- because it's stupid -- is really no laughing matter. Carlson's brand of conservatism has found a home here:

And while American troops and tanks aren’t about to roll across our shared border, Carlson’s brand of conservatism already has. On any number of issues, from the merits of gun control to the perils facing free speech and the unimportance of climate change, Canadian conservative leaders like Danielle Smith, Scott Moe and Pierre Poilievre are in lockstep with Carlson. If the Trudeau Liberals keep sinking in the polls, his imaginary invasion might not even be necessary.

George Carlin warned long ago that we should never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.

Image: The National Observer

Friday, February 03, 2023

After They Light The Match

The Republicans plan to hold the Biden Administration hostage over the national debt. They tried this once before -- in 2011. This time around,  Paul Krugman writes, things are different:

The G.O.P., perhaps remembering the political backlash after Donald Trump tried to dismantle Obamacare, has since become much more cautious. McCarthy has already declared that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are “off the table”; if his party ever gets around to making specific proposals, it will find out that Medicaid, which covers even more Americans than Medicare, is also extremely popular, even among Republicans.

Nor is political caution the only reason Republican leaders have become reluctant to attack the safety net. The G.O.P. base has also lost interest in spending cuts, turning its attention to culture wars. As my colleague Nate Cohn recently noted, in early 2021 far more Republicans reported having heard about a decision to stop publishing some of the Dr. Seuss books than about President Biden’s $1.9 trillion spending bill.

Inevitably, some Republicans are trying to make the budget a culture-war issue, claiming that large sums can be saved by eliminating “woke” spending. But what spending are they talking about?

So how much "woke" spending is there?

I’ve been trying to find specific examples of federal outlays that conservatives consider woke, bearing in mind that right-wing think tanks and politicians have a strong incentive to find big-ticket items that sound outrageous. The results of my search were, well, embarrassing. For example, the spending listed in a Heritage Foundation report thundering against “woke earmarks” totaled about $19 million — less than the federal government spends every two minutes.

So the bottom line on the debt crisis is that there is no bottom line: Republicans denounce excess spending, but can’t say what spending they want to cut. Even if Democrats were inclined to give in to extortion, which they aren’t, you can’t pay off a blackmailer who won’t make specific demands.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make the problem easy to solve:

The emptiness of Republican fiscal posturing is no guarantee that we’ll avoid a debt crisis. If anything, it may make a crisis more likely. MAGA may lack policy ideas, but it’s rich in nihilism; Republicans don’t know what policies they want, but they definitely want to see Biden fail.

So far, the Biden administration’s strategy seems to be to flush Republicans out of hiding, force them to propose specific spending cuts, then watch them retreat in the face of an intense public backlash. There are also, I presume and hope, contingency plans to avoid crisis if this strategy fails.

But it’s hard not to be worried. It’s dangerous when a political party is willing to burn things down unless it gets its way; it’s even more dangerous when that party just wants to watch things burn.

Like Nero, they plan to party after they light the match.

Image: The Guardian